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Over the years, Tom Gareau has learned how to navigate being one of the few Democrats around the Thanksgiving dinner table of his mostly conservative family.

“I have always been one to make peace and push things under the rug,” says Gareau, a Cambridge singing teacher who backed Hillary Clinton for president. “But I have decided this year that my actions must speak louder than my words.”

And so he’s skipping the gathering altogether.

After an election unprecedented in its vitriol and divisiveness, Gareau is among thoseAmericans grappling with a most uncomfortable dilemma — whether to avoid the prospect of passing the sweet potato casserole to that kindly uncle who vehemently disagrees with your taste in presidential candidates.


No stranger to volatile political exchanges, the Thanksgiving table has long been a proverbial melting pot for extended family members often harboring very different views on the country and its leadership. But the heat rising from the hustings this year has scorched, and the wounds are deep, particularly for the losing side.

The election results shocked many, and brought to the surface the realization that there were a lot of quiet Donald Trump supporters out there. Like your uncle.

In the days since the election, on the other hand, thousands of anti-Trump marchers have taken to city streets across the nation, chanting “Not my president!” The country also has seen a spike in reports of hate-related incidents, most linked to Trump’s supporters.

The divide among Americans has rarely been wider, and the result has left some convinced that mingling with opposite-minded relatives over turkey might be too much to bear this year.

“What I’m seeing is an uprise in people worried and concerned about what the [dinner-table] dynamic is going to look like,” says Karen Ruskin, a Sharon psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist “And wondering, ‘Should I back out?’ ”


It doesn’t help, of course, that the holiday comes a mere two weeks after the vote.

“I consider Thanksgiving to still be in the blast zone of this event,” says Joe Pinto, a 39-year-old from Portland, Maine, who is seriously considering skipping his family’s gathering on Long Island. “This is going to take more time than we have between now and Thanksgiving. This is the Super Bowl of conversations. You don’t go into the Super Bowl without substantial practice.”

For Pinto and others weighing their options, this is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Pinto says he might not make the final call until the day before. Already, he says, he’s shed tears over what to do. Since the election, he has struggled to reconcile his family’s support for him, as a gay man, with some relatives’ support for a candidate who routinely made disparaging remarks about minorities and other marginalized groups.

“I have so much grief and despair that I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to participate in conversations right now where I’m going to be asked even a little bit to understand,” Pinto says.

Some are taking preemptive measures to ensure things remain civil throughout this year’s meal.

“We will be having Thanksgiving at my house, as we do every year, with a little added angst,” says Kate Buyuk, a Bolton lawyer. “The way we’re dealing with it is that I have firmly announced that there will be no political discussion, and anybody who can’t follow the rules has to go home.”


Others have been spared the decision-making altogether.

Ruth T. Naylor had already been planning to spend Thanksgiving in Milan, Italy, for a work function before the results of last week’s election were tabulated. However, the prospect of a holiday spent outside the country seems, in these strange new times, a particularly appealing distraction.

“It will completely get my mind off of this, and that’s what I need,” Naylor, an Andover resident, said last week as she booked hotel reservations.

How long the ire over the election might linger among families remains to be seen, of course, but for some it may be a while.

Gareau has already decided that he’ll also be skipping Christmas with family, opting to spend it with friends. He describes the decision as akin to a death in the family, but adds, “I’m at an age now, in my later 20s, that you seriously start to consider there’s a certain level of happiness in investing in your own network. And it doesn’t always have to be your blood family.”

As he examines pros and cons, Pinto is preparing for his potential absence. Recently, he wrote a three-page letter he may send to family members in his stead.

In it, he lays out — in what he describes as measured and loving terms — his reasons for skipping.

He’s not sure how it will go over.

There is a lingering concern, he says, that some could view his absence as silent rebuke — which, he insists, it’s not.


Whatever happens, though, he’s hoping the events of the past few months might somehow lead to a greater understanding within his family.

“I hope this ushers in a kind of great softening among us,” Pinto said last week.

He paused.

“Maybe it will; maybe it won’t.”

Dugan Arnett can be reached at dugan.arnett@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett.